Written by Bec Nicol (Features Editor) and Lucy Spencer (Staff Writer)

Cosplaying Poverty: The Common People of Campus 

With social stratification comes a fascination with how the other half live, leading to both poverty porn (think any Channel 4 documentary) and, on the other end of the spectrum, jealousy-inducing programmes such as MTV’s Cribs. Channel 5 has even attempted to blend the two by airing Rich House Poor House, a poorly-named series providing a rich insight into the lives of families from different class backgrounds as they swap homes and pay checks for a week. Understandably, the common-or-garden Schmoe has long wished to emulate the rich and famous. From donning knock-off apparel to copying the iconic Rachel haircut in the nineties, boujee on a budget was the go-to aesthetic.

A more puzzling phenomenon, however, is the upper echelon of society wanting to mimic the poor. And not for seven days, as in questionable British TV shows, but for the three years spent at university.

I first became aware of this desire as a teenager, when I attended a grammar school. Despite the absence of fees, many of my peers lived in affluent areas and had parents who’d paid for private tuition ahead of the 11+ exams. A new type of class emerged: period five Maths filled with insufferable snobs who ached for a Waterloo Road-esque education or Skins-style sixth form, without truly comprehending what that could entail. Barnabas would no longer be top dog at the local comp; one utterance of “rah, where’s my baccy?” would (understandably) result in his textbooks being flushed down the toilet.

Fast forward a few years, and I naively believed university students would be more mature. How wrong I was. Campus increasingly resembles a live-action adaptation of Pulp’s Common People, only instead of coming from Greece with a thirst for knowledge, students come from Surrey with a thirst for Blue Moon at Falmer Bar (a drink they will expect a working-class peer to buy for them because they’re ostensibly “broke”). While it’s likely true that there’s no money in their account – growing up rich means the upper-class have never had to worry about saving, and therefore are incapable of anything other than squandering – if they called their dad (on their iPhone 15 Pro Max), as Jarvis Cocker suggests, they would suddenly have a bank balance higher than my yearly salary. They can only escape this proclamation of poverty because their performances rival Barry Keoghan’s in Saltburn. By dropping their aitches rather than wads of cash, they will have you, alongside luxury overpriced lotion, in their hand.

But I urge you to look a little closer. Their shapeless garments are not cast-offs from your uncle’s wardrobe, but clothing from Carhartt or Dickies: brands initially designed for manual labourers, which now primarily serve as a costume for the wannabe working-class (who, ironically, don’t need a job). Cosplaying poverty at the University of Sussex is particularly insulting considering Brighton and Hove has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country. Yet it’s not entirely the fault of the Maximillian and Esmereldas out there; the prevalence of the “Uni Lifestyle” is somewhat to blame.

Yes, even the most well-meaning parents seem to believe life at university should encompass little more than consuming cold beans on toast and warm beer in a mouldy flat in the dodgy part of town. Because everyone wants to (or, more accurately, believes they have to) live like this, a run-of-the-mill activity is often conflated with the behaviour of a baroness. My partner, for example, who grew up on benefits and in social housing, is stared at with incredulity when suggesting taking a five-minute Uber rather than three buses. Of course, some people genuinely cannot afford even a short cab journey, but I would bet money that the students behaving as if only Prince William would forgo the joys of the N25 to take a taxi are not them. That is if I had any cash spare.

It Pays to Have Money: Fashion at Sussex

Brighton’s fashion culture is alive and flowing constantly. However you dress, you can bet someone else in Brighton is wearing it better. The streets are the city’s catwalk and every niche fashion style is expressed and experimented with. 

Walking down London Road, an area where many of us at Sussex live, I can see a guy with thick black eyeliner and mohawk wearing a casual suit-type outfit finished off by a large tie that was knotted tightly around his neck. Next, I may walk past a girl whose seriously voluminous and bouncy brown curls were cut into a long shaggy mullet. She wears a long flowing maxi skirt and a short black denim jacket. Along with her Doc Martens, it mashes together the retro 70s with the grunge 90s – a vibe many of us are trying to capture lately. Later in Aldi, I marvel at all the cool different ‘pieces’ young people in this city seem to own. A chunky colourful knit, the most unique pair of dungarees you’ve ever seen or a pair of baby pink sambas over by the frozen section. I am in awe of the way these items of clothing are just an element to a perfectly coordinated outfit that not only compliments itself but the body, face, tattoos, piercing and hairstyle of the person wearing it. 

But let’s get back to reality. 99% of the time I am staring and thinking how the actual f*ck do these people afford and find all these things, and how on earth do I keep up with it so that I don’t feel inferior each time I leave the house?!? 

I know many of you, including the tens of people we see daily in really cool outfits, wonder the same. It questions whether a passion for fashion has anything to do with the excessively long coats and platform boots you see around campus and in the city. It can feel as though we’re all competing.

But I’ve deciphered the two things that give you an edge in this competition. First, you need to be vain and second, you need to have a fair amount of disposable income. 

Don’t be offended if you think I’m calling you vain. It goes hand in hand with the type of confidence that’s needed to step out wearing one of those eyesore maxi cargo skirts and a pair of white chunky new balances. It’s the type of person who takes a selfie every time they get dressed or every time they walk past a mirror (myself included). Even if what they’re wearing isn’t to everyone’s taste, they will still turn heads when they strut past you, it just works when you think you’re “serving”.

To be able to constantly churn out new outfits matched with the most fitting accessories you can’t be tight for money. Which you would think the typical uni student is and many, probably the majority, are. I’m talking about the type of student who doesn’t have to worry too much about money, the upper-middle-class type that is prevalent at Sussex. Many use the privilege to feed their materialistic values and buy, buy, buy clothes from Depop, online, vintage stores or charity shops. They’re constantly consuming and producing fashion in an attempt to create specific looks for the everyday. If you’re reading this and find it a little too relatable then don’t tell me you don’t spend that much on your stuff, because you can’t convince me you got your fresh-looking pair of jeans and Birkenstock clogs at a charity shop. If you’re going to partake in this hobby I think it’s best you don’t try and act like you’re scrimping when shopping and pulling your outfits together through sheer luck found in a charity bin.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It just means that those who can’t afford to do the same or struggle to have the confidence too will never be able to gain recognition in the borderline toxic culture of fashion prevalent in Brighton. The world of fit checks, shopping hauls and OOTDs is not accessible to everyone, in particular the proper common people who are busy just trying to get through the day.  I think many of us caught in the loop of constantly worrying about how we can dress better should try and be conscious of the real reasons behind why we do it. We need to ensure that we’re not using our privilege just to try and feel better or above others. 

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